After a dismal time in coloured clothing, South Africa return to the format they like best. Their record in England is unmatched, but an inexperienced squad will have their work cut out for them as England look to begin a new era under Joe Root. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
The Proteas have had an utterly miserable tour of the United Kingdom so far. But, there is hope. Or so they will hope. South Africa begin their redemption quest in the first of four Tests at Lord’s on Thursday. But even before they have stepped onto the pitch, there’ been a googly.
Faf du Plessis, he of the hard-arsed captaincy swagger, will not be available for selection and Dean Elgar will captain instead. Du Plessis’s wife recently gave birth to the couple’s first child. It was described as a “difficult” birth and the middle-order batsman will only rejoin the team once mom and baby are settled.
With the captaincy decided, it’s on to the batting cover. Theunis de Bruyn, who made his debut in New Zealand earlier this year, is widely expected to fill the slot, unless management was trying to fox reporters at this week’s press conferences.
Also certain is that the team will have yet another new opening pair. Heino Kuhn replaced Stephen Cook in the Test squad. While some have raised eyebrows at him being on the other side of 30, Kuhn’s selection is justified by sheer weight of runs and matches. Curiously, despite his decade-plus service in domestic cricket, Kuhn has never had a county cricket stint. However, he had a decent enough outing with the A-team recently and scored an unbeaten 80 for South Africa in the warm-up game.
For the newbies, there is some hope. Lord’s usually has much to offer batsmen if they can settle after seeing off the new ball. Last summer, the highest innings total in Tests was 416.
In county cricket this season, there has been just one result out of four fixtures so far. But even so, Middlesex’s first innings total was over 400. The pitch hasn’t been entirely lifeless, but it certainly won’t be spitting in any way.
South Africa will be hoping for similar conditions on Thursday. Allowing themselves some time to adjust and get in the zone will be critical for the remainder of the series. The four Tests mean that there is no pressure to force a result first up. That might be considered “negative” cricket in some quarters, but it is critical considering how inexperienced the Test squad is in English conditions.
Most have played some form of cricket in England before – be it in the recent limited overs hullabaloo, county cricket or on A-team tours – but just four players in the squad have played a Test here.
Fortunately for them, their coach has been here before. When South Africa clutched the number one Test ranking in 2012, Russell Domingo was assistant coach to Gary Kirsten. Domingo has a point to prove on this tour. The last time South Africa and England met under his tutelage, they were roundly embarrassed. He has also confirmed that he re-applied for his coaching job.
Despite being clobbered by England at home in the 2015-16 season, though, South Africa’s away record in Tests remains pristine. They have the best win/loss percentage of any of the Test playing nations away from home since 2012. And although they do play fewer Tests than some other countries, they have lost just one series away in that time – the spinning disaster against India back in 2015.
Their record in England is also no match. No team has been more successful visiting these shores than them. They have not lost a series here since 2000.
If the batsmen can settle, then the bowlers can do the rest. They need no introduction. Vernon Philander has been declared fit, Kagiso Rabada picks himself in any team, Morne Morkel brings experience and Keshav Maharaj will offer a bit with the bat and spinning variation.
What we are unlikely to see this series is the traditional retirement of an English captain. Joe Root has taken over the reins from Alastair Cook after a torrid run which saw the side losing five of their last six Tests. Root will be eyeing a new era and England have picked two spinners for the first Test. Spin has often been South Africa’s undoing, but surely that’s all in their heads?
England vs South Africa head-to-head record (all records since readmission):
Overall: Played 43, SA won 14, lost 12, drawn 17?In England: Played 20, SA won 8, lost 6, drawn 6.? At Lord’s: Played 5, SA won 4, draw 1.
England squad for first Test: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Gary Ballance, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Liam Dawson, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Toby Roland-Jones.
South Africa series squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock (wk), JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Duanne Olivier, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.
Session times: 6-10 July 2017?Morning session: 12:00-14:00 ?Afternoon session: 14:40-16:40 ?Evening session: 17:00-19:00. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Dean Elgar. New Zealand Black Caps v South Africa, day 3, first match, ANZ Test series, University Oval, Dunedin, New Zealand. Friday, 10 March, 2017. Copyright photo: John Copland / www.photosport.nz